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The Peoples’ Race

The Peoples’ Race

Since 1983 the Speight’s Coast to Coast has led the way in adventure sports. But more than anything it is a people’s race bringing together all kinds of people of all age and ability from all ends of New Zealand.

When Robin Judkins dreamed up the 3k run, 55k cycle, 34k mountain run, 15k cycle, 67k river kayak and 70k cycle across New Zealand’s South Island, it created a unique event where weekend warriors can rub shoulders with world champions. Such is the events reputation it routinely attracts participants from more than a dozen countries. But here in New Zealand it has becomes a country’s challenge of choice.

Among regions, Canterbury is understandably the best represented region. While the earthquake recovery has affected entries in recent years, Judkins is confident that locals will return once their lives settle down again, and also points out that a new generation of multisporters is already helping.

The youngest entrants this year are three school mates, Mike Allison, Niko Cronshaw and Sam Doyle, all 17 year olds from Kaiapoi. Fittingly, the youngest entrants will race the newest event category, the three person team.

Judkins also has a soft spot for West Coast entrants. The starting point for the 243k race across the South Island has produced more than its fair share of both placegetters and characters. Westport this year has two totally different people taking on the tough challenge at the same stage of their life. Miriam Comesky and Don Abbey are both 53. Miriam, a teacher is taking on the Two-Day Individual race for the first time. Don, a professional pest controller, is returning to the One Day Individual race for the fifth time in 11 years.

Marlborough and Nelson is a region that has always been well represented. Nelson has produced no less than four previous One day winners, with Richard and Elina Ussher expected to attempt their second husband and wife win. It is also home to the eldest woman in this year’s Speight’s Coast to Coast, 60 year old nurse Belinda Heaphy attempting the Two-Day individual race.

The town most likely to rival Nelson’s grip on the front end of the Speight’s Coast to Coast is Wanaka, with defending One-Day champion Aiden Curry and last year’s Two-Day winner among women, Jess Simson, moving up to the One-Day race.

Judkins, however, has a soft spot for a Wanaka family team pairing of Bill and Kyran Gray. From Wanaka, 51 year old Bill last participated in the Speight’s Coast to Coast 25 years ago and is returning to give his 16 year old son a taste. Kyran’s occupation is listed as boat cleaner, which must mean he’s been support crewing his dad ever since he was born.

Indeed, for every entrant with winning ambitions, there are 10 who take on the Speight’s Coast to Coast for personal reasons ranging from the challenge to a weekend away with mates.

That’s certainly the case for an Invercargill three person team entry of Paul Clark (51), Felicity Diack (29) and Tom May (60). The café operator, hair dresser and deer farmer were bought together my multisport, with Paul listing himself as the worst set of legs in Invercargill and Felicity listing herself as the best set.

At the opposite end of the country, Auckland is the second biggest regional entry. Thirty one year old yachtie, Dylan Warwick, is a Speight’s Coast to Coast rookie, as is 53 year old Kerikeri accountant Ross Christensen. Louise Mark is taking to the One-Day race for the third time, no doubt hoping to improve on previous placings of second and fourth in the women’s world title race.

Auckland is also the home of the eldest man in the race, 70 year old Peter Wood. In between living in the USA and Auckland, Wood has raced the feature One-Day race no less than eight times. If Wood finishes he will be the eldest ever to race across the country in a single day.

Not far south, Taupo’s Heather and Ralph Kumm are a husband and wife entry in the family team category. Family teams also abound from Taranaki, with New Plymouth father and son farmers, Kevin and John Murphy, lining up for the first time.

Farmers are the biggest profession in this year’s Speight’s Coast to Coast. Putararu dairy farmer Phil Winter has a ready-made support crew for his first attack at the One-Day race, writing on his entry form “One farm, one wife, seven kids, cool life.”

Veterinarians are the fastest growing profession in the event. Once upon a time Rachel Cashen, twice third in the One-Day women’s race, was the only vet. This year there are six, with Waipukurau’s Anyika Thomsen a top-10 contender in the women’s One-Day race.

Waipukurau might also win the per-capita stakes too, with 36 year old diesel mechanic Jason Bennett also taking on the One-Day.

The oddest combination of professions might belong to Wanganui three person team, Kerry Bennett (optometrist), Chris Cresswell (doctor) and Kerry McGuiness (builder). Interesting, builders are also one of the biggest professional groups in the event.

Company directors also feature highly, with entrepreneur and adventurer Davey Hughes back again for the Two-Day individual race.

Wellington is the least represented of New Zealand’s major cities, but that might be changing because the Capital City wins the race for rookies. Sarah Murray calls herself “keen, clueless and prepared to swim,” while Susan McLean says, “doing this just to impress my boyfriend, while 65 year old Peter Melling says “training supported by NZ superannuation.”

Wellington also has another first, with 30 year old Bridget Strid the first sign language interpreter to race the Speight’s Coast to Coast.

The 32nd Speight’s Coast to Coast is scheduled for February 14-15. Racing starts on Kumara Beach, midway between Hokitika and Greymouth, and finishes 243k later on Sumner Beach in Christchurch.

The feature Multisport World Championship is contested on Saturday February 15, with almost 150 entrants taking on the 3k run, 55k road cycle, 34k mountain run, 15k cycle, 67k white water kayak and 70k cycle in one day.

The Two Day race starts on February 14 with the cycle and mountain run, then concludes on February 15 with the cycle, kayak and cycle sections.

© Scoop Media

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